Steven Benson is the Founder and CEO of Badger Maps, the #1 route planner for field salespeople. After receiving his MBA from Stanford, Steve’s career has been in field sales with companies like IBM, Autonomy, and Google – becoming Google Enterprise’s Top Performing Salesperson in the World in 2009. In 2012 Steve founded Badger Maps to help field salespeople be more successful. He has also been named one of the Top 40 Most Inspiring Leaders in Sales Lead Management.
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN IN THIS EPISODE:
- Inspiration story of Jason Lemkin -“The Godfather of SaaS” model
- All-In-One: Steve’s biggest success and failure
- How to use Storytelling techniques to overcome Sales objections
[01:09] Welcome Steve
[01:31] Business success stories that inspire him
[01:40] Jason Lemkin : creating SaaStr
[04:00] GPS analogy
[04:50] Sales experience
[05:20] How Steve got into sales
[06:45] IBM training program
[07:20] Sales roles at Google
[08:10] Challenges faced while switching career path
[09:20] Badger maps
[09:50] Lacking vision
[10:07] Choice of Technology industry
[10:45] Dynamic nature of the technology industry
[12:34] Competing in software/app world
[13:37] Stories that excite his customers
[13:44] Application of Badger maps in sales
[14:38] Field sales
[18:05] Being efficient with time
[19:00] Having success stories with statistical details
[20:05] Leadership circle
[21:25] Identify a problem and find a solution
[22:00] Objection handling
[23:20] Challenges facing today’s sales leaders
[25:21] The art of storytelling
[26:17] Contact info
There’s so much information and so much to do and so little time today in a way that there hasn’t been before, and I think it takes people’s focus off things. It makes it harder to accomplish things.
Speaker 2: 00:14 This is the storytelling for sales podcast, a show about leveraging the power of storytelling to ignite your sales performance and grow your business.
Ed Bilat: 00:25 Hello, this is Ed Bilat, we have a very cool guest for you today. Steve Benson, the founder, and CEO of Badger maps, the number one route planner for field salespeople joining us today after receiving his MBA from Stanford. Steve’s career has been in the field sales with companies like IBM, our autonomy, and Google. And actually, he became Google’s enterprise top performing salesperson in the world in 2009. In 2012 Steve founded Badger maps to help field salespeople to be more successful. Steve has been named one of the top 40 most inspiring leaders in sales lead management. Steve Benson, welcome to the show.
Steve Benson: 01:11 Hey Ed, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Ed Bilat: 01:13 Oh, absolutely. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have you on the show! I listen to your podcast and I watch your videos all the time, so I can’t wait to hear your story all the way from San Francisco. But before we do this, let me ask you a traditional question, which is “what business success story inspires you and why?”
Steve Benson: 01:35 Well, um, you know, I guess one of my big inspirations, uh, running Badger is Jason Lemkin. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him, but he’s the guy that started EchoSign, which is kind of very select DocuSign if you’re familiar with that company.
Ed Bilat: 01:50 Oh yeah. Yeah. We use DocuSign all the time.
Steve Benson: 01:53 Okay. He started EchoSign, which, uh, is a very similar product I guess, but they sold it. They didn’t take it public as DocuSign did. They sold earlier too. Adobe, he was one of the early people that made a SAAS business and built it up from scratch and took it all the way to a very nice exit. That’s what he’s first known for. But then after that he started just writing blogs and kind of communicating with the world of people that start software businesses and just writing down and created some really great thoughts and content around how to do every element of running a software company like his challenges that he faced, ways he’d overcome things, and he talked to other people about how they were overcoming things in very clear, simple explanations. Yeah, two-page articles would create vast value if, from my perspective, they taught me a ton of things, and that content strategy then grew into now a huge business that’s called SaaStr. Yeah, when it was just all started, he wasn’t even monetizing in the beginning. He was just kind of writing about his experiences and be like, Hey, I know a lot about this and I’m just going to share my thoughts. He’s a really humble guy, a really inspirational guy for me. The company that I run is based on ideas that I learned from him,
Ed Bilat: 03:11 So this was a blueprint for SAAS companies with no expectations to monetize this whatsoever and it turned out into something really, really big.
Steve Benson: 03:19 Right, which works out sometimes. I don’t actually know if he had the plan to build the whole SaaStr Fund staying on top of what he was starting off with. I actually suspect he just had a blog and was creating content and then so many people were following it. He was like, oh, I should have a conference. I should. All of them. They do it now. But really it just started out creating great content for what ultimately came to his user software executives.
Ed Bilat: 03:49 We’re gonna circle back to that. Let’s turn the spotlight on you. Now our podcast listeners know, and I think today this will be particularly relevant. I like to use the GPS analogy. Then I’m, you know, you and my guests, right? You are in this world. I know Badger maps is for sure using GPS and, as you know, in order for the application to locate you, you need at least three towers. So each tower makes a circle, triangulation technique, and it’d been able to pinpoint yourself or precisely. So then I looked at your awesome experience. I see those three circles, right? I see the sales circle, right? I see the true passion for technology in this tree, which is your circle two. And I also see your leadership drive, which is circle number three. So let’s talk about all three of them. Shall We?
Steve Benson: 04:48 Sounds great.
Ed Bilat: 04:49 All right, excellent. Circle one is sales experience. I look in, you’ve been in sales roles for many, many years. IBM, HP, Google, and currently you are founder and CEO of Badger maps and which is very unusual for a CEO. You actually host your own podcast outside of sales talk, which I think is awesome, but not many CEOs are actually doing this. And look, not many CEOs actually record sales training videos for their reps. And you do. So how did you even get into the sales world?
Steve Benson: 05:22 Well, you know, originally it was because of a friend slash mentor of mine. I was in business school at Stanford looking at a bunch of more traditional roles for students coming out of business school types of things that most of them do, you know, consulting and finance, jobs like that. And I was looking at them and interviewing with them and kind of exploring the different roles that are there’s, you know, tried two years away from graduation, still figuring out, you know what? Early in my time there and trying to figure out what path I would take, this guy I know it was a friend and a mentor was like, you know, you could be a consultant and he had been a consultant before. He was like, you should be a consultant in finance. We can do any of these things, but ask yourself, “are you going to be the best guy in the room? Best guy or girl in the room at this job?” And because I don’t think you’ll be the best finance person, I don’t think you’d be the best consultant. You might go into sales and you might be the best salesperson in the room and that’s kind of a natural fit for you. And everyone always focuses on showing up their weaknesses. But really in a career, you kind of want to play to your strengths.
Steve Benson: 06:32 I think your strength might be the interpersonal side, the leadership side, the sales side of the business. I was like, oh, that really makes a ton of sense to me.
Ed Bilat: 06:43 Okay.
Steve Benson: 06:44 So I started looking at the jobs of that nature and I ended up entering IBM that has this program where they, uh, which is like a year-long training program.
Ed Bilat: 06:54 Yes.
Steve Benson: 06:55 Pretty cool. It was like, so right after business school I went into a year-long sales training program and they’re kind of grooming people to be at their company for the long term, I think is what they’re looking for. And they stay, invest a ton up front trying to make you a great salesperson. I didn’t end up staying there after the year was over. I ended up, uh, with a software company called Autonomy, which subsequently was purchased by HP. And then I ended up, uh, moving into a sales role at Google because they’re kind of on the cutting edge of SAAS. I’d seen some SAAS that, so software as a service to shift to doing software on the cloud as opposed to traditional software. It’s downloaded or solo CD, it changes the whole business model and stuff. And I, and I saw that at Autonomy a bit. We were dabbling in that model. Okay. One of the companies leading the space, Salesforce, Workday, a few others, but a Salesforce is where Google is in a really great job at that point. And so I went to them and it was kind of a part of growing very early SAAS businesses out. And so I was there for years and then I started Badger.
Ed Bilat: 08:02 And what was a major challenge early on like for sales specifically when you were rolling through the training at IBM?
Steve Benson: 08:18 Well, I think some of the biggest shots, it’s really not. It’s been taught to you before like everyone has the natural sales abilities that you learned from when you’re a small kid, you try to sell your mom on buying you some sugar. But you learned to sell and learning to influence and learn to educate others. I was fairly highly educated, but I hadn’t been educated in this at all. I felt like it was a natural fit for me, but that being said, I had to kind of build all these skills from the ground up and the types of things that really differentiate great salesperson from other types of business leadership.
Ed Bilat: 08:59 Sales suddenly going to be challenging and can be stressful. Do you have a favorite failure of yours? Like, anything will happen, which was a good lesson in the retrospective?
Steve Benson: 09:14 Yeah, I’d say the biggest failure of my biggest successes, the company that I run now,
Ed Bilat: 09:22 I love it.
Steve Benson: 09:25 Long term, it was successful, but in the short term there were a million failures that I overcame building the business. I’d say that one of my biggest failures was not realizing how long and hard it was to get a business of this nature off the ground and going. Everything took three times longer than I thought it would and was three times harder than I thought it would be. The failure there is, I mismanaged how long and difficult things would be and so that, that causes all kinds of problems. But then long term it did end up being a successful company here, but it was very good. But harder to get going than I thought it would have been. And that was definitely a failure of oversight.
Ed Bilat: 10:06 Let’s talk about the Second circle: The technology this is your passion and commitments. Again, IBM, Google, HP and you stayed with technology for many years and yet your undergraduate degree is actually in geography. Right?
Steve Benson: 10:31 I was actually looking at a bunch of industries that would be interesting. I figured out, oh, I shouldn’t be on the sales side of things. There were other industries that I was also looking at the reason. So that to me was because of how fast it’s changing and how dynamic it is and how it’s compared to most industries. It’s just having an outsized impact on the world. That’s changing how things are done in business and in people’s lives all the time. I mean, if you think about even 15 years ago, people didn’t have cell phones or they had very basic, wasn’t even have cell phones. People are just living differently. Technology has changed, business has changed people’s lives a ton in the last 15 years, and it’s happening really fast and quick change tends to create opportunity, my opportunity to disrupt incumbents and it’s just exciting and interesting. So I think, yeah, that’s how I ended up in technology, right? It’s less that I’ve always been interested in speeds and feeds the computers or something, but more that I’m interested in the change that technology enables, and I’m interested in being a part of exciting, dynamic things.
Ed Bilat: 11:42 Uber is The largest Taxi Company in the world and they do not own any taxis. That’s right. Yeah. The largest media company in the world does not write any content. I am talking about Facebook. Hospitality provider does not only new hotels, right? So like 10 years ago, if you would tell somebody, let it, a business like that would exist. They will just laugh at you saying like this is not possible. it’s just physically not possible. But that didn’t happen. So specifically for the mobile APP World that isn’t it like really hard to compete in this space today?
Steve Benson: 12:23 Yes. The bar for creating new technology is relatively low today. 16 year old can code up an APP but to build enterprise-class software is very hard if you’re building something that a business is going to be using for business critical things. And if you’re making that kind of application, there’s a lot to it and you’ve gotta be able to integrate with their existing systems. You’ve got to be able to work perfectly solve their problems. There are a lot of apps, there are a million flashlight apps and those are easy to build, right? There are far fewer companies that are building applications successfully and software successfully that’s used in business. There’s a lot more today than, there used to be. There’s got to be 5,000 companies that make marketing technology and 5,080 sales technology. But really it’s hard to compete because there is so much going on and changes so fast. But it’s easy in that if you solve a key problem that a large group of people has, you can really create a lot of value with technology very quickly. And so even if it’s hard to compete and you’ve gotta be on your game and you can unlock a ton of value of people and therefore create a great business.
Ed Bilat: 13:36 So for your customers, like what type of stories excites them? , what do they do with the application?
Steve Benson: 13:44 What Badger does is we have an application for field sales teams. We take their territories, their customers, and we put them on a map for them. We allowed them to use our tools to figure out which customers they should focus on. We give them the capability to build routes and schedule out their time when they’re in the field and meeting with customers, we provide them with new leads. So we showed them where businesses are, so if you want to make this a real example, think about a company that sells something to dentists and their 800,000 dentists or whatever in America. And this company’s goal is to let all these dentists know, hey, we have a cool new way of cleaning people a little bit better. We have a new thing that does that. Exactly. And then they already have a, a very large sales team. That’s their business, right? So that’s a field sales is a sale that occurs in the fields, right? You could also just sell it online. I mean, what if you were a new dental company and you just, you created a really nice website, put your new tool online. Maybe no dentist would show up and look at your finding new tools. So how would you get them to do it while you send out field salespeople
Steve Benson: 14:51 could also use inside sales where you’re calling them on the phone, but with certain types of buyers, the best way to get in front of them is by actually going and meeting with them and explaining why your new way of doing something is better or why what you have is this and that they should start using instead of something else. It could be selling wine to restaurants or something, you know, it could be medical devices to doctors or pharmaceutical drugs, pharmaceuticals are sold this way. But the point is that we help that kind of salesperson who goes and meets their customers face to face, uh, we helped them do a whole bunch of things and they’re a very mobile group of people. Obviously, they’re out in the field and so our software works on, it’s an application on their phone. It also works in their computer. We enabled them to do a bunch of things. We just solve a bunch of problems that they face.
Ed Bilat: 15:44 They would drive us to downtown and just dump final seven people on the street. Right. Then you have three streets that way and the fourth streets that way. And um, you know, I would take the elevator to the top of the building and then be just walking down the stairs until securities you will run out, uh, cell phones. Yeah. So it was basically finding anybody who would be interested in cellular technology, in the wireless. Right. And remember, once you have an appointments, we’ll always do a T- call means that you go to the left, you go to the right and you go to the back of the business, which you just visited and say like, Hey, I was just talking JNK right next door to you. So would you be interested in this as well? Right? So like, I’m sure your software is way smarter, uh right now. So, because that was like very, very basic instincts and they actually based a lot on psychology. How, how would they feel after that appointment? Right. As if it wasn’t like stressful. If they told me to go, I would be very hesitant to go to another location, you know, I would need a cup of coffee or lunch.
Steve Benson: 16:57 . Most of the people that we sell cell phones, especially tricky because everybody could use those. It’s very hard to filter, but like if you’re selling heart stents to cardiologists, that’s much more specific. Or if you’re selling, you know, organic beer to organic restaurants are, and Vegan restaurants, that’s much more specific. Our customers tend to be not trying to sell something to everyone, but they’re selling a specific high-value thing to specific people. And so it’s more about, okay, I come up with my territory, there are 800,000 dentists in the country, but my territory is just, you know, Manhattan north of you know this street. And so there are 500 dentists, this area, those are the 500 that I’ve got to talk to. Or they’ll cover like western Kansas or something and there are 500 dentists there. And so they cover a specific group of people in a specific area.
Steve Benson: 18:02 So a lot of it is about focus and knowing when to follow up with them… when it’s a good time setting meetings and then being efficient with your time to kind of create value for those customers and not, not just kind of walk in and not many of our customers are kind of that early in the sales process where they’re just kind of walking in and saying hi. Sometimes we see that though we do see that some, but it’s especially in my experience, a hard job. If you’re selling something that kind of anyone can buy like water’s hard or cell phones or anything, insurance, business insurance that every business could buy. So it’s like if you walk up and down Main Street USA and every single company on the street could buy your thing. It’s nice because you have lots of customers, but it’s also harder because you have lots of prospective customers,
Steve Benson: 18:52 Well, you’re having a great story that communicates how you help your customers is one of the most important things that you can do. People remember stories. You want to have those success stories about your customers. Like this customer got 50% more meetings, you know, a month because they started being organized with our product. This customer was able to sell 20% more because of the focus they were able to use in the new leads they were able to get with our product. A key thing is having statistics in your stories if you’re in the business like have real numbers and the real people if I can tell another dental company that they know and compete with is using our product. I use them, she has an example because they have a bunch of customers there. It’s uh, we got our first big customer there a long time ago, but then I was able to go and tell that story to other companies in that industry that don’t necessarily sell the same exact thing as them, but also sell things to dentists or doctors. If you can give a very specific example of a specific company unlocking a ton of value because of your product or service. That’s really one of the keys to sales is having that story.
Ed Bilat: 20:06 So let’s talk about the last circle. The Leadership circle, cause obviously is the CEO of the company. All right, so you’re not just a leader, you also coach and the teammate. You transition to that role and being the leader. What stories come to mind that actually helps you grow as a leader?
Steve Benson: 20:26 I think great leadership. It’s easier for most people that understand that great athletic coach versus a crappy, crappy athletic coach. We’ll tell their basketball team, for example, you got to score more points. That’s not being a good coach to yell at you and say you guys aren’t scoring enough points. You’ve got to score more points, more baskets. A great coach is someone who is able to pull a player aside and say, Hey, I noticed on your crossover dribble on your left hand that you’re leading with your foot like this. If we were to switch it to leading with your foot like this, you’d get an extra half step on the defender and that would allow you to get around them and make the layup. Here’s a drill that you can practice, you know, 20 times tomorrow and really engrain doing it this way instead of that way and you’ll be able to feel it. That extra step that you’re going to be able to get a great coach identifies problems like that and then brings a solution and helps the person learn and uplevel their game. And that’s really what I try to do. I don’t just set goals and say, hey, I want know numbers to increase x percent by x date. I try to work with all the different teams and have ideas with them and listened to them and figure out where they can get that extra half step.
Ed Bilat: 22:01 When you take a specific objection when the customer says I don’t have any money, like how do you deal with this? Like do you just freeze? When do you ignore it? What do you do? Because objections will come like whether we like it or not with objections will come and if you’re not prepared, well guess what? Like it was going to be very awkward.
Steve Benson: 22:23 Right, exactly. Yeah. I have a whole series of videos on sales skills and they just, if they’re available for free on Youtube, Youtube Channel, Badger maps, it’s the sales tips and tricks playlist and there’s like 10 videos. They’re all 10 minutes long or so, so you can, we’ll get there. I’m pretty fast, but it’s, it covers things like objection handling. I think we have three or four videos on that and that’s everything from the way you should anticipate objections, the different types of objections you’re going to run into and how to head them off and how to handle them and uh, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
Steve Benson: 23:24 I think the biggest challenge is what a noisy world. It’s everyone’s so busy, you know, their attention being told a million different directions and it makes it harder to get things done. Makes it hard to take the next steps, getting people’s attention right originally and letting them know, hey, I do x, Y, z. It creates value for people like you by doing B. C is that interesting to you? To learn more about or and getting them aware that you are a solution like you even exists is one problem. Because people have so much going on, and this is for a lot of reasons. I mean, one we productivity per employee is, has raised a ton over the last 30 years. Pay hasn’t really grown for a, for most people that productivity has. And so we’re basically, we’re doing a lot more with less. That makes people a lot busier. I do also blend technology, right? The frantic nature of today’s world. 17 hoses of information coming at you. Like I remember when I was a kid, my dad, you’d get the Chicago Tribune and read it. That was like his one hose of information. But if you, if you look at, you know, someone today, they have three social media sites and you know, 14 news aggregators and you have TV and Netflix and their phone blowing up, you know, there are eight communication applications on my phone, each one can have messages flowing into it from different types of things. And Yeah, I think it makes it a very noisy world. And I think that’s the biggest challenge for selling to new people. I guess the biggest challenge to leading a team is that they’re all attracted. I think it’s the, it’s the, it’s the hardest thing about managing yourself is that you’re distracted. There’s so much information and so much to do and so little time today in a way that there hasn’t been before. And I think it takes people’s focus off things and makes it harder to accomplish things. You really have to actively combat that.
Steve Benson: 25:24 The Art of storytelling is the art of communicating with whoever you want to communicate with. Doing it through stories is doing it with examples. It’s about connecting to people, to connecting to the person that you’re trying to communicate with. Giving rich examples, whether it’s yourself or people like them, it just makes the message that you’re trying to get across through the story a lot more effective and a lot stickier in people’s minds. And so that’s what the art of storytelling is to me. It’s really the art of great communication. And I think that in general, in the modern world with low attention spans and all the distractions of the world, it’s harder to have truly great communication.
Ed Bilat: 26:16 I appreciate your time. So for our listeners, what’s the best way to connect with you over your brand?
Steve Benson: 26:21 Um, best way to get ahold of me for your listeners, probably Linkedin search, Steve Benson at Badger I’ll come right up. My podcast is outside sales talk and you’ve got to listen to that. If you were in hearing new sales strategies and learning new things about how to be a great salesperson, it’s less me talking and more, I been on best sales leaders from around the world, thought leaders and that sort of, those sorts of people.
New Speaker: 26:53 We’ll make sure to include all those links on sources. Um, again, thank you so much for coming to the show, is an absolute pleasure.
Steve Benson: 27:00 Yeah, I think what I can offer your listeners is, if they are interested in sales, you get in touch with Badge.r Just let people know that you, that you heard about podcasts here, we’ll give you two months free of Badger. So if you’re in sales and you want to check it out, that’s a reward for listening to all my, uh, my blathering here.
Steve Benson: 27:38 Thanks for having me, Ed!